VANCLEAVE -- Vancleave football coach Jim Bloomfield was smiling after winning his season opener -- a 48-33 victory over East Central on Friday.
Last year, the Bulldogs suffered through a rebuilding year that saw a young team go 2-8. The young Bulldogs have grown a year and that gives Bloomfield reason to be optimistic going into his 13th year at the Vancleave helm.
"We had a great preseason and everybody is healthy,'' Bloomfield said. "We are very optimistic and really excited about the season."
Junior quarterback Terren Crowley ran for 245 yards and three touchdowns, and completed 5 of 5 passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns in the season-opening win.
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Vancleave holds its home opener on Friday against Pass Christian.
The Bulldogs compete in Region 8-4A.
Bloomfield cautioned that the season will only be as good as the Bulldogs' offensive line. Although three seniors are projected to start, only one, right guard Micah Nunez, returns as a starter.
"Our offensive line is a question mark," Bloomfield said. "Everything begins up front. You can't be a very good football team without the offensive line playing well. They have to be tough up front and overcome the big defensive fronts that we are going to be facing."
Bloomfield notes that size will be an issue for the Bulldogs this year, not just along the offensive line but in many other areas. Only Nunez (6-3, 260) and sophomore center Lucas Orchard (6-0, 255) tip the scale above 250 pounds. Junior guard Hunter Sullivan (5-11, 230), senior tackle Chase Gregory (6-0, 225) and senior tackle Drew Scott (6-3, 200) make up the rest of the Vancleave offensive front line.
The situation isn't much different on the defensive line. Senior nose tackle A.J. Skinner (6-3, 295) anchors the middle. "He is very difficult to move off the ball," Bloomfield said.
Defensive end Dre Davis is the only other defensive lineman over 200 pounds at 5-9, 210. Troy Griffin and Brian Orchard, both in the defensive end rotation, go 6-0, 180 and 6-0, 170 respectively. The other defensive tackle, Clint Barnett, is 5-11, 185.
"We are small and quick. We have a lot of team speed and are strong," Bloomfield said, who added that it was imperative that his front, because of their small size, play with the correct technique and move to the football. "We have a lot of speed up front. We are going to see if we can make something happen this year."
Crowley, who accounted for close to 1,700 combined rushing and passing yards last year, and most of the offensive backfield is back.
Like last year, the Bulldogs will use a backfield-by-committee approach this year for their double wing attack. Sophomores Marlon Warren and Tyheem Weldy, who accounted for about 400 yards each last year are the top returning running backs. Junior Michael Whittle, who missed last year with an injury, senior Jamie Johnson and sophomore Walter Williams look to add depth to the Bulldogs backfield.
While the backfield returns a lot of experience for Vancleave, Crowley will have to get accustomed to new targets at the receiver position. Senior Ladarius Marks moves over from his strong safety position to the wideout, a position he did not play often last year. Senior Cory Feranda moves up from junior varsity to start at the other receiver position. The Bulldogs do not typically run a tight end.
The starting linebacker corps will feature a new starting trio for the Bulldogs. Williams will anchor the linebacker corps from the middle position. Surrounding him will be Whittle, Warren and Michael Brisnac.
The strength of the defense could be the secondary, Bloomfield said. Marks will move from safety to one corner slot, with the other corner being occupied by Weldy. Jhailyn Philpot starts the year at strong safety with Crowley and Johnson getting the initial nod at the free safety slot.
"We know what we are up against when we play," Bloomfield said about his team's small size.
However, he notes another strength of the team is its coaching staff, which has been together for a long time.
Lavon Capers returns for his 13th year as defensive coordinator, and the other coaches, except for wide receivers coach Gerald Edmondson, have been on staff for at least five years. David Chatham returns as the offensive coordinator. Roman Holmes coaches the defensive backs and Todd Alford the defensive line.